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Mitigation + Adaptation required re #climate: heat waves require clean energy + a/c …

July 3rd, 2015 · 1 Comment

The world is complex yet, far too often, humans gravitate to simple answers. When it comes to clean energy, for example, many (non-expert) advocates of action point to solar panels and seem to stop there — leaving out efficiency measures, other clean energy, ignoring grid management & storage issues, etc …  On a broader level, there are those who create an either / or positing: either you address energy poverty or you address climate change; either you work to mitigate climate to help people in 2100 and beyond or you support adaptation measures to help people today.  Judith ‘Marie Antoinette’ Curry provided a stunning example of this yesterday.

Looks like they need more air conditioning in Spain and France and also South Asia. [and the western United States …]

Does it make more sense to provide air conditioning or to limit CO2 emissions. I vote for more air conditioning in these susceptible regions.

Didn’t take long for pushback to emerge which led @CurryJA to reinforce her either/or mentality of addressing today’s problem(s) by worsening tomorrow’s.

22h22 hours ago 

As more suffer and die from heat, GA Tech’s Judith Curry offers advice “Let them buy air conditioning”

21h21 hours ago

Perhaps aspires to be the of disruption?

Let them buy air conditioners! Never mind that they’re poor and can’t afford it. Ignore the fact that the energy use would make global warming worse. And be sure to paint it as an “either/or” proposition whether it is or not. Just don’t make us do anything like limit CO2 emissions.

A simple reality: tackling complex situations with either/or propositions is typically a route for disastrous results.  How climate change is worsening heat wave risks is no exception to this rule.

Very simply, we must:

  • Work to mitigate climate change holistically — efficiency, clean energy, smart planning/development, land use, biochar, etc …, etc …, etc … and (sigh) even considering win-win-win approaches to geoengineering.
  • Undertake adaptation measures to help humanity (and, as possible, ecosystems/other species) deal with the already existing and already locked in climate change impacts.  This can include moving communities threatened by rising seas or, in some cases, building sea walls to protect them; improving building codes to deal with worsening storms; addressing land use to enable species to ‘migrate’ as the climate changes; to urban resiliency planning/development; etc ….; etc … etc … and even increasing air conditioning availability / deployment.

When it comes to that air conditioning, however, we don’t ‘win’ by deploying inefficient systems to be powered by (inefficient) highly-polluting energy sources. While today’s a/c units are far better than yesterday, efforts at ARPA-E and elsewhere are pushing us toward far more energy efficient air conditioning options.  Building sciences have advanced to the point where we have very strong knowledge about how to ‘build’ (both specific buildings and communities) to lower heat loads and, therefore, a/c requirements (for example, white roofing).  And, the dazzling growth of renewables makes it clear that we can power increased air conditioning loads without burning coal.

And, of course, increasing efficiency married up with increased renewables doesn’t mean limiting the growth of coal use but provides a very clear path to weaning us off coal entirely.

No, it is not ‘buy air conditioning and save lives today while accepting worsening tomorrow’ vs ‘work to help tomorrow by killing lives today’.  This shallow form of reasoning might work for some but it doesn’t work for developing real solutions to real problems.

UPDATE: A well phrased laydown of why it is mitigation + adaptation and why “let them buy air conditioners” is simply so ill-advised:

  1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
  2. Mitigation responds to future losses
  3. Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
  4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

See also Let them eat air conditioners.

From a correspondent,

Curry says if its hot, let them buy A/C

Let’s go further: presumably she would say:

  • If sea-levels rise, let them buy life preservers.
  • If species go disappear, let them go to a zoo.
  • If disease carrying insects expand, let them buy bug spray.

Some additional ‘inconvenient truths’.

Tamino pointed out that many of the world’s population — for example, that billion or so of humanity who do not have electricity access — simply are too poor to buy air conditioning.  And, of course, there is that electricity access — needing to address energy poverty and supply before powering those air conditioners.

Think about another factor — how many people around the world house themselves in structures that do not lend themselves to installing air conditioning? (From shacks in shanty towns to open structures …)

Or, what about those who work outdoors? How to air condition the 30 percent of the world’s population working in the agricultural sector (Bangladesh, 47%;  Ethiopia 85%; India 49%; Nigeria 70%; Pakistan 44%)?

Let’s add another little ‘inconvenient truth’ twist to the discussion. The ‘Let them buy air conditioning’ is beyond extreme anthropocentrism.  We (humanity, Homo sapiens) are not the only inhabitants of this planet.  While there are (evolutionary based) adaptations (like lizards hiding beneath rocks in the desert during the day) and there are zoo animals benefiting from technology, other species don’t have Honeywell and General Electric and untold other number of companies seeking to sell them air conditioning units. (The Chicago School hasn’t figured out how to extend the market economy there … yet.)  With accelerating climate disruption changing and destroying ecosystems, the air conditioners won’t do much for other species toasting in ever-worsening climate change-driven heat waves.

PS:  For those interested in exploring Judith Curry “science”, here are a few relevant discussions:


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